Monday, May 14, 2018

WISE PHILOSOPHERS, FANATIC KINGS


The time gap between voting day and results day is one of the afflictions of democracy. The tension is excruciating when it's an election that will decide the temper of life for a considerable length of time. Will the freedoms we have taken for granted for 68 years continue as before, or will they be amended by a new set of values with new definitions of freedom and democracy? To know the answer, we must necessarily live through the pressure of waiting. One way to cope is to think of electioneering in the old days; that will keep the mind on elections, but without the stress of the immediate.

The Constitution was signed on January 26, 1950.Those were days of idealism and high thinking. Politicians were careful about the language they used, the manners they maintained. The way Jawaharlal Nehru mingled with the masses was a spectacle in itself. Leaders like Sardar Patel and Rajendra Prasad did not have the populist touch, but the trust and respect they enjoyed put them on par with the glamorous Nehru.

Nehru's friends and fellow ministers went their separate ways for the first general election in 1950-51. There were more than 50 parties in all. Prominent among them were Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's Jan Sangh, J. B. Kripalani's Kisan Mazdoor Praja Parishad and B.R. Ambedkar's Scheduled Castes Federation (later named Republican Party). Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia headed the Socialist Party and there was S.A.Dange's Communist Party of India. Not one of them proved a match to the Indian National Congress.

In a way the Congress played a game of deception. Indian National Congress was not a political party. It was a national movement, representing all Indians in their common struggle for freedom. The universal appeal it thus acquired could not in all fairness be exploited for the partisan interests of one group of people competing with other groups of people in a democratic election. This was one reason Mahatma Gandhi asked for the dismantling of the Congress after independence. But the tacticians who claimed to be his followers rejected his advice and made unfair use of the Congress name. In two generations they lost the advantage they had wrongly gained.

In the first generation, though, electioneering adhered to the best standards of democracy.
The style changed -- as did everything connected with politics -- after Indira Gandhi and her Emergency rule. It was during her time that money became a powerful element of democracy. She was also the first to introduce sloganeering as an election weapon. It has to be admitted that her slogan, Garibi Hatao, did influence voters. During Vajpaye's reign, Pramod Mahajan introduced corporate-style electioneering with "India Shining" as the dominant slogan. It flopped.

The big change we saw in electioneering was in 2014 when hitech took over. What was called Obama Style of electioneering saw armies of educated youth checking in as volunteers and electrifying the scene with hitherto unheard techniques such as microtargeting of voter groups and social media outreach. They "minted data" and launched "digital campaigns".

But the quality of electioneering nosedived. The Karnataka election saw top leaders using unbecoming language. Personal attacks were made often and Amit Shah spoke of the "10 percent sarkar of Congress", provoking reminders that the BJP's 15 percent sarkar had landed in jail. There were apprehensions about dirty tricks coming into play. The Prime Minister's statement that when his party won there would be allegations against voting machines, struck many as taking advance bail.

Some attacks invited strong but civilised rebuttals, none stronger or more civilised than a written message by Devanura Mahadeva, one of Kannada's best known novelists with a mind independent enough to decline a nomination to the Rajya Sabha. He wrote an open letter to Ananta Kumar Hegde, the rabid communalist from coastal Karnataka. "It is frightening", Devanura wrote, "to have to listen to the words you have spoken: 'Those who are unaware of their parentage are the ones who call themselves secularists'. Now we have to make you aware of your own parentage. It is Hatred that is your father, Intolerance your mother, Illusion your ancestry, Mithya (falsehood) the source of your knowledge. Another statement of yours: 'Every human being is an animal when he is born; it is what he does that makes him a human being'. In your case I somehow feel it is quite the opposite".

Now we know why Plato said there would be no end to the troubles of humanity till philosophers became Kings.




Monday, May 7, 2018

VOTE FOR THE FUTURE OF INDIA


Never was a Karnataka election more important to India than this one. Never was a Karnataka election more ruthlessly fought than this one. All bets are off. All masks are off. All decencies associated with democracy are out. The one and only objective is: Win by hook or by crook, mostly by crook because that's easier.

Such is the viciousness of the fight that victory can become defeat and vice versa. The Congress, for example, may get more votes than others, yet the BJP may form the government. Two factors support this possibility. First, the BJP is in power in Delhi and has no qualms about using that power to its partisan advantage. Income Tax raids meant to scare opponents have already taken place and the CBI has progressively closed its cases against the famously infamous Reddy brothers, the principal support base for the BJP's finances and muscle power in the state. Referring to the Reddys' mining business, the then Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde said that exports took place although "there was no mining permit, no transportation permit, no export permit". And now, no case.

The second factor that can make a mockery of the election is the phenomenon of also-ran parties in India; they cannot get anywhere near power on their own, but can tilt the balance in a tight contest. The most notorious example of this one-man subterfuge is the Kerala Congress, a small outfit with a small Christian following. Its patriarch, K.M.Mani, played the two-timing game so cleverly that he remained a cabinet minister in changing permutations and combinations.

A cheaper version of the K.M.Mani brand of opportunism was devised, also in Kerala, by toddy king turned politician Vellapally Natesan. He projected his son Tushar as the great hope of tomorrow. This completely unknown man formed an alliance with the BJP and floated rumours that he was going to be a Rajya Sabha MP, or a cabinet minister, or chairman of this corporation or that. The man's hunger for a highfalutin position was pathetic to watch, especially since Amit Shah just kept him waiting, despite Papa Natesan's warnings.

In Karnataka, though, opportunistic politics has a better chance because H.D.Deve Gowda's JD(S) is in the buy-and-sell market. There isn't a hope in hell for the JD(S) to get a majority on its own. But the few seats it wins can make a difference if the Congress-BJP scores are close. One thing that is certain about JD(S) is that it will embrace anybody for power. Don't believe Deve Gowda's threat to disown his son Kumaraswamy if any tie-up with the BJP took place. He said similar things in 2006, yet Kumaraswamy tied up with the BJP and ascended the throne. Father was delighted.

If anything is certain about this election, it is that the Gowdas will keep all option open till the final hour. That's because H.D.Deve Gowda is the greatest dynastic politician in India, well above the Gandhis. The balance sheet of his reign as Karnataka's chief minister and India's first accidental prime minister had nothing to show for it -- except for the light it shone on H.D.Kumaraswamy, H.D.Revanna, H.D.Ramesh, H.D.Anasuya, H.D.Shailaja, H.D.Balakrishna Gowda, some H.D. wives and children. Beyond two sons, two grandsons are also being groomed. What we see now is a meeting of the cynical with the crafty. The Gowda chief knows that the BJP is so desperate for power that it will agree to make Kumaraswamy chief minister. The BJP knows that Gowdas are so desperate for power that they will accept its diktats. Watch out for the ultimate exercise in expediency. The only saving grace is that if the Gowda ambition becomes too self-centred, a section of the JD(S) may revolt.

Meanwhile, the take-aways of this election are finding their way into the history books. In Karnataka, unlike in other states, the BJP faces a strong opponent. The Congress has an array of time-tested leaders, while Siddaramaiah, stronger and more assertive of late, pits himself against Modi with aplomb. Example: When Modi mocked him for his 2+1 formula (contesting from two seats with son contesting from another), Siddaramaiah retorted by referring to (a) Modi contesting from Vadodra and Varanasi and (b) Modi's own 2+1 formula (two Reddys and one Yeddy).

Memorable, too, was the Hindutva extremist's shout from coastal Karnataka: "This election is not about water and roads; it is about Hindus and Muslims". Sam Pitroda brought in sobriety with the comment, "This election is not about Karnataka; it is about the future of India". Amen.





Monday, April 30, 2018

HITLER, NEHRU & A WORTHLESS BOSE


When those who don't have it in them think they have it in them, it's sad. Chandra Kumar Bose was a qualified management expert who did well in the Tatas for many years. Then somebody told him that he was not just another Bose but Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's own grand-nephew. Worse, the BJP zeroed in on him, told him how Bengal was waiting for his guidance and leadership. As their nominee for the chief ministership of West Bengal, they fielded him against Mamata Bannerji in the 2016 elections.

Poor Chandra Kumar Babu. He got 26,299 votes, less than half of Mamata Bannerji's 65,520. Even those 26,299 were Hindutva votes, not Bose votes. But alas, those who don't have it in them don't see what others see. C.K. Bose came out last week with a denunciation of Jawaharlal Nehru that revealed many things about this Bose -- his ignorance of the nuances of history, his lack of a sense of balance, his immaturity as a public interlocutor and, frankly, his political rawness.

Just see what the man said: "Hitler never betrayed his nation. Nehru wanted to sit on the throne without fighting, but sucking up to the British. In short, Nehru betrayed his nation". Somebody must have told him about the stupidity of his words, so he came up with another statement. "I am not supporting Hitler -- of course he was a devil -- but he was not fraudulent like Nehru who in the guise of being a nationalist was actually a British lackey".

Perhaps this undeserving Bose was aware of the BJP's aversion to Nehru and was trying to please his masters. There are schools in Rajasthan where history texts do not mention that Nehru was the first prime minister of India or that Gandhi was shot dead by Godse. Bose figured that such an iron-hard line would make his stock go up with the BJP; may be PM candidate next time, who knows? So Nehru is put in the same bracket as Hitler -- bold even by Hindutva standards.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose would do nothing of the kind. The differences of opinion between Netaji on the one hand and Gandhi, Nehru, Patel on the other are well known. Yet, Netaji did not denounce Congress leaders. There are strong reasons to believe that he did not die in an aircrash as Japan claimed and that he eventually returned to India, living as Gumnami Baba in Faizabad where he died in 1985. This is still a raging controversy, but no one denies the fact that the Baba's belongings, examined after his death, contained several photographs of Netaji's parents and immediate family, telegrams from trusted veterans of the Azad Hind Fauz and various personal belongings. A small move by such a man to attack Nehru as a betrayer would have changed the course of Indian history. But he was a true patriot who put the country above him. Sometimes grand nephews have difficulty comprehending such things.

As irony would have it, Chandra Kumar Bose's worthless views on Jawaharlal Nehru were exposed for what they were by not a Congressman or Indian historian or intellectual but by a Pakistani. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor in Pakistan, wasn't replying to Bose, too inconsequential to be noticed from that distance. He was merely analysing an aspect of the India-Pakistan situation from an academic point of view. Writing last week in the venerable daily, Dawn, the professor wondered:

"What might have today's India looked like in scientific terms if Narendra Modi, not Jawaharlal Nehru, had been India's prime minister in 1947? Instead of being noted for its exceptional space programme, and brilliant string theorists, India would have become a garbage dump for every kind of crackpot science... As in Pakistan, Darwinian evolution would be considered heretical and destructive of religious faith".

Recalling a speaking tour of India in 2005, Hoodbhoy wrote: "Without Nehru there could never have been the huge and palpable mass enthusiasm for science, manifested in many science museums within a single city... Nehru must also be credited with keeping a lid on his generals. Immediately after partition, Nehru ordered the grand residence of the army chief to be vacated and instead assigned it to the Prime Minister. The move carried huge symbolism... It is nowadays becoming easier by the day for Pakistan to recognise its mirror reflection across the border".

Chandra Kumar Bose is unlikely to see the point. Naturally. Those who don't have it in them don't have it in them.

Monday, April 23, 2018

THE AGE OF DARKNESS IS UPON US

Why should life get so degenerate so often in our country? See the multiplying rape cases, each more brutal than the other. Why should party leaders talk like party leaders and not like human beings when human issues come up? Comments on the Kathua rape horror were an indiscretion, said the BJP's buddhijeevi, Ram Madhav. Why should election advertisements assume that the citizen is an ass? One that asks Karnataka voters to support the BJP "for a corruption-free state" carried the picture of Shri Yeddyurappa, the chief minister who made history by going to jail for corruption.

Party leaders justifying rape is an astonishing phenomenon. Meenakshi Lekhi's concern was not about the girls who were brutalised, but why the media was talking only about rapes in BJP-run states? Maneka Gandhi, whose concern for animals is touching, says that the BJP should not be blamed for the actions of "one or two bad eggs". In Kathua BJP ministers blocked police investigation for four months. One of them asked: "What if this girl has died? Many girls die every day". In Unnao the accused MLA was taken in for questioning only ten months after the girl's complaint. The MLA's thugs had beaten the girl's father to death for raising questions. Even today bodies like the National Women's Commission have kept deafening silence.

The insensitivity shown by the ruling dispensation has shocked civil society so much that 49 retired IAS and IPS officers wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing despair over "the terrifying state of affairs". Saying that they are citizens with no affiliations with any political party, these experienced administrators drew attention to "the frightening climate of hate, fear and viciousness that the ruling establishment has insidiously induced". They drew special attention to "the bestiality and barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an 8-year-old child" in Kashmir.

A responsible government would seek ways to not only contain the criminality that seems to be growing, but also examine the sociological aspects of the issue. It was the BBC that drew attention to an unnoticed aspect of the rape culture in India. The desire for sons and the willingness to get rid of daughters even before they are born have made sex-selection abortions common in many parts of the country. The result is "an awful sex ratio imbalance" that has made India "a country full of men". For every 100 girls, 112 boys are born in India, the healthy ratio being 105 boys for every 100 girls. Haryana has the worst sex ratio -- and the highest number of gang rapes. Facts cry out for attention from our policy makers, but they are interested only in birth-count by religion.

Calculations are constantly being made for narrow partisan gains. Why has cash become suddenly unavailable? The Finance Minister says with his customary casualness that "there is more than adequate currency available with the banks" and everything will be normal in three days. If there is adequate currency around, why can't citizens get them? And why does it take three days for things to be normal? Last time also, cash had disappeared on the eve of an important election. The manipulative capacity of the ruling party has spread distrust and apprehensions all around. But the cynicism of the administration remains untouched.

Why have things gone so irregular, so a-moral? Why has religion become an instrument of evil instead of a road to enlightenment? Why are there so many well-placed people ready to justify evil? Why is hope giving way to despair? Why is light going out and darkness spreading? Clues are there in the wisdom of the ages. But can they give comfort in the midst of vexations that crush us? Nothing could be clearer than the tidings about the Age of Darkness in the Vishnu Purana.

When corruption is beyond every measure of control,

Wealth alone will be the deciding factor of nobility, and brute force the only standard of deciding what is righteous or just;

People will be greedy and will take to wicked behaviour;

Countries will be laid waste and robbers and vagabonds and kings will exploit their subjects;

Petty minds will conduct business and merchants will be dishonest;

People will occupy high seats and pretend to preach religion;

Anxiety and fear will dominate because of devastating famines and heavy taxation;

The land will not grow food crops and people will dread of impending droughts.

So the sages knew it was coming. But we paid no heed to the warnings.


Monday, April 16, 2018

PROMOTING BAD GOVERNANCE IS BAD


So it’s mixture as before - Shri Arun Jaitley is wise, ministers of southern states are dumb. The south objected to the centre taking the 2011 population figures as yardstick for the devolution of tax revenues to the states. Shri Jaitley dismissed the objections in convoluted phraseology. To wit: “Population proxies very well for the needs of the people in quantitative sense. The Income Distance which captures very well relative poverty of people in the states is used to assess qualitative needs.” Got it?

For the benefit of those who are slow on the uptake, Shri Jaitley explained that more resources will go to the populous and poorer states which need additional funds for providing education, health and other services to the people. Very considerate of Shri Jaitley. But Shri Jaitley did not pause to ask why the populous and poorer states have remained populous and poorer seven decades after independence and four glorious years after Shri Jaitley’s party came to power.

The southern states are less populous and less poor because they worked harder to achieve progress. Between the 1971 and the 2011 censuses, when Tamil Nadu’s population rose by 75 percent, Uttar Pradesh’s rose by 130 percent. The south controlled its head count by actively pursuing modern ideas on social indicators such as female literacy. They also advanced in education and on the economic front. Nothing of the kind took place in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP, appropriately called BIMARU states (meaning they are unwell).

Instead of pulling up those who mismanaged their affairs, Shri Jaitely wants BIMARU to be financed by TATKKAPU (Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka and Puducherry). This injustice was objected to by four southern states that held a conclave last week, the first of its kind in history. Telangana did not attend, but its chief minister is on record saying that “the weightage for population in tax devolution should be reduced.” Tamil Nadu did not attend for political reasons that all could understand. But DMK leader Stalin was the first to object to the centre’s new initiative. The south is sending a message to Delhi: Promoting bad governance is bad; penalising good governance is worse.

There’s more in this than robbing Peter Shetty to pay Paul Sinha. The Centre’s “terms of reference” mentions also “the performance of states on flagship central programmes.” These are the flagships of the BJP Government, such as Start-up India and Swachch Bharat. In other words, what the states get by way of financial devolution depends also on the degree of their loyalty to the BJP’s flagships. This makes a farce of the federal system, and violates the constitutional neutrality of the Finance Commission. And it is being imposed unilaterally with no consultation with the states.

None of this is reason enough to raise demands like Dravidasthan, an idea that found some airing in Tamil Nadu. The political integrity of India is too precious to be turned into a bargaining tool. India is one and must remain so. But in this united India, there should be no discriminatory policies that pit language against language, region against region and religion against religion. New Delhi’s approach to sharing national resources should not give the impression that some are treated as more equal than others. It certainly should not favour one political party at the expense of others.

Shri Jaitely and his Government would have been less vulnerable if they had made an effort to push the Hindi states to perform better. What we see in fact is the Hindi states feeling complacent about their inefficiency. Nothing brought this out more grotesquely than Yogi Adityanath asking Kerala to learn from UP’s health system.

Arrogance - and studied ignorance - of this type make the performing states feel bitter about their money being diverted to the non-performers. The Central Government’s partisanship adds to the discontent in the south. The feeling that Delhi is promoting the interests of the Hindi belt at the cost of others creates a north-south divide. The Centre’s insensitiveness on this matter is really difficult to fathom. Even in electoral terms, the sense of hurt in southern states should worry the BJP. The south uniting against the Finance Commission issue is in reality the south uniting against the BJP. The wise will learn.